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Luis Benveniste: "The PISA report identifies where the shoe is tight in order to take action"

2023-12-04T13:28:04.434Z

Highlights: Luis Benveniste, Director of Education at the World Bank, talks to EL PAÍS. PISA results will be released on Tuesday, and are expected to be negative. He argues that the results should not be faced with fear, but rather as a necessary snapshot to make decisions that alleviate the educational deficiencies of this new generation. "The goal is not to improve test scores, but how to make sure that students can acquire those fundamental competencies to be able to fulfill themselves," he says.


The World Bank's Director of Education remarks that in the X-ray of the system that will be released on Tuesday "we have to see behind the country's average, who is doing better and under what circumstances"


Luis Benveniste, Global Director of Education at the World Bank, this year at the bank's headquarters in Washington. World Bank

This Tuesday, the results of the PISA educational quality tests will be known, which condition the policies of the 81 countries and territories examined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and are expected to be negative after the uneven closure of schools due to the pandemic (in some countries, up to two years). However, the Argentinian Luis Benveniste (Buenos Aires, 1966), Global Director for Education at the World Bank, argues that the results should not be faced with fear, but rather as a necessary snapshot to make decisions that alleviate the educational deficiencies of this new generation. The bank's former regional director of Human Development for Latin America, who is an expert in student assessment practices and educational financing after training at Harvard and Stanford universities, gave an interview to this newspaper last Wednesday within the framework of WISE 2023, an educational meeting of the Qatar Foundation and to which EL PAÍS was invited.

Question. What should we expect from the PISA report after the pandemic?

Answer. I haven't seen the results. The big question is what the impact has been on schools. This generation has lost so many days of school that we have to see how to enable the educational task to truly give these boys and girls the opportunity to be able to get the most out of their school experience.

Q. Investment in education is essential to improve the system, but is it more important to train teachers very well or to have a lower ratio of children in class?

A. It is important to note that the poorest countries spend between $30 and $50 per student, more or less [per year]. And in a medium-sized economy country it's $8,000. The difference is spooky. There, more investment is needed, but spending could also be more efficient. You have to know where to invest to achieve stronger, clearer results. In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, a classroom can have up to 70, more than 100 children... It is very difficult for a teacher to teach such a diverse class to read. Clearly, a reduction in size is critical; But, then it is also important to be able to invest in textbooks, teaching capacity... They are fundamental inputs to achieve learning.

PISA is a snapshot of a generation of students at a time

Q. In 2014, in a controversial letter, 83 experts alerted the OECD that governments were making far-reaching education reforms just to do better in the PISA picture. Do you agree?

A. The PISA report is a snapshot of a generation of students at a moment's notice. And that can give us a lot of information with data on the conditions of the school, the teachers, the context of the students in their homes... A much more detailed painting makes it possible to identify where there are problems, where the shoe is tight, in order to be able to take action. Now, the goal is not to improve test scores, but how to make sure that students can acquire those fundamental competencies to be able to fulfill themselves, contribute to the growth of the country and open up job opportunities that satisfy them and contribute to the productivity of the economy.

Q. But are decisions really made that are a bit cosmetic?

A. You can't generalize. If we think that the PISA test reflects something valuable, there is some value in improving the results. Now, the value of the proof is not the test itself, but what it represents.

Q. Asia continues to stand out while Finland, which has always been the reference, has fallen. Do we need to move towards more homework and private lessons?

A. Asia has truly performed excellently. South Korea, Singapore, China, Vietnam – a country with far fewer resources than many countries in Europe – have an impressive capacity to support the learning of basic and fundamental knowledge. There are many studies focused on understanding what the ingredients are from Asia. The world has learned a lot about how they teach mathematics, about their tiered curriculum ― to build more complex knowledge over the course of a school year ― or about the role and training of the teacher. For example, Korea put a lot of emphasis on pedagogy and classroom management, and that has impacted learning.

Q. What would I have to do in Spain to improve in PISA?

A. Look, I couldn't give an opinion because I would have to learn more about the problems that Spain is facing. I can't give an answer, because I honestly don't know. But I believe that the PISA test does offer an opportunity to investigate, to understand what are the variables, the factors that most strongly influence the learning of boys and girls and, from there, to reflect on how to respond to this situation. That is the opportunity that PISA presents. If we stick to the average being 520 [points], we didn't learn anything. 520, 540, that doesn't say anything. But PISA opens the door to understanding the factors that lead to these results. Averages, moreover, hide many things and you have to look behind them, see who is doing better, who is worse, in what circumstances, in what type of classes, with what type of teachers, in what regions... There are tons of factors that explain that average result.

We have an obligation to the next generation to give them all the tools they need to succeed in a complex socio-political context

Q. And do you dare to make a diagnosis of Latin America and the Caribbean, which you know well? Is the situation so dramatic?

A. Yes, it's dramatic. And let's also remember that Latin America was one of the regions most impacted by covid and school closures have been among the longest in the world [225 days on average]. Therefore, the learning loss has been remarkable. It is important to see the results of the PISA tests to begin to understand what the after-effects of covid have been and what to do. Because we have an obligation to the next generation: to give them all the tools they need to succeed in a complex socio-political context, in which the world of work is changing very rapidly and in which new technologies are making a major disruption of all the areas in which young people interact. Education is a basic tool, necessary to be able to navigate life in the best way and to be able to potentiate everything with which one is born.

Q. Is the World Bank working to curb the decline of schoolchildren after the pandemic?

A. Of course. Today we are focused on the education crisis and the fact that approximately two-thirds of children in developing countries do not acquire the most fundamental skills; which we refer to as the ability to read a text and understand it at the age of 10. It is necessary to ensure that the educational experience provides the fundamental skills: being able to read, do basic mathematics, acquire fundamental socio-emotional skills ―such as solving communication problems―... All the evidence points to these being the basic foundations for later being able to build other deeper, more technical knowledge. Without that, it really becomes very difficult to enhance a person's full capacity.

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Source: elparis

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